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Tech neck: What it is and how to treat it

A young woman on a couch smiles as she looks at her phone screen.

Feb. 29, 2024—When was the last time you paid attention to your posture while looking at your cellphone? Try it now. Is your head leaning forward? Are your shoulders hunched? If so, you might be at risk for developing—or may already have—tech neck.

Tech neck is a term used to describe repetitive muscle strain and pain that can happen when you look down at a mobile device or computer screen. While this position isn't inherently wrong, it can become painful and unhealthy over time.

A pain in the neck

The human head weighs 10 to 12 pounds, says the National Spine Health Foundation. When your head moves forward to look at a screen, the force of gravity is no longer evenly distributed. The weight becomes concentrated on your head and neck. Looking down for an extended period of time can put as much as 60 pounds of pressure on your neck.

Tech neck symptoms include:

  • Neck stiffness and pain.
  • Shoulder pain.
  • Tingling or numbness that radiates down the arms.

The health effects of tech neck can accumulate if they aren't treated. Eventually, tech neck can bring about headaches, respiratory and neurological problems, and degenerative disc disease.

Taking tech neck head-on

Fortunately, there are many ways to treat and prevent tech neck. Try these tips from AARP.

Take hourly movement breaks. Set a timer to help you remember to get up every 30 to 60 minutes. Step away from your mobile device or computer and walk around for a minute or two. Make sure to change your head position. If it dropped forward, move it back to a neutral position between your shoulders.

Stretch it out. Reach both arms overhead, then alternate stretching one arm higher than the other. The American Massage Therapy Association also recommends the doorway stretch. Stand in a doorway and place your hands and forearms against each side of it with your elbows at shoulder height. Look straight ahead and lean forward gently. Do these stretches throughout the day for a few minutes at a time.

Take care of your neck. Keeping your neck in a neutral position will help keep it strong. Pressing the back of your head against a wall works neck muscles too.

Change your position. When talking on your cellphone, go hands-free with ear buds or the phone's speaker instead of holding the phone to your ear. Listen to an audiobook rather than reading on a phone or tablet. Dictate your text messages rather than typing them.

If you still have pain, numbness or weakness after trying these tactics, talk to your doctor.

Sources

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